Artificial Intelligence is very difficult to define, however the most elementary way of defining it would be: To program machines in such a way that their efficiency surpasses human intelligence. AI steers along with it an immense amount of efficiency, accuracy and perfection. It is a breakthrough technology which has demonstrated its miracles in the economic sector. Consequently, similar patterns are now being replicated in the defense arena. Gun powder and nuclear weapons have served to be the two major revolutions in warfare. Artificial Intelligence which is being considered as the third revolution in warfare is in full swings to steer along major changes in international affairs.
The prospects of machines to execute warfare tasks by the interaction of its embedded sensors computer programming, and algorithms, devoid of any human involvement is indeed becoming a concrete reality. Autonomous weapons are not a new technology, yet the magnitude of the autonomy that is bestowed upon them is intensifying with every coming day. These autonomous weapons are quite captivating and are being pursued by different states.
Technological advancement has been the hallmark of major powers. A new arms race has been ignited in the sector of militarization of AI where states are endeavoring to gain comparative advantage over one another. Militaries are eyeing these new technical developments which will not only augment their capabilities but also make their networks more secure. USA was the first country to incorporate AI in its military. This was followed by China and Russia who have galvanized their efforts to avert lagging in the respective field. President Vladimir Putin has highlighted the importance of AI by stating, “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind,” .Furthermore he added, “It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world.”
Currently, USA and China are the front runners in the race of AI. In 2014, the Department of Defense released the “Third Offset Strategy” which pressed upon the intensification of the integration of AI in U.S. military. Likewise, the military is also seeking a program under the name of Joint Enterprise Defence Infrastructure (Jedi), a cloud computing setup that serves U.S. forces around the world by pooling data and distributing workload along with critical information to U.S. soldiers. Apart from the logistics, AI is also being incorporated in the combat sector. USA has integrated a number of autonomous weapons, prominent among which are the autonomous ship Sea Hunter which can operate without even a single crew member, autonomous aerial devices such as Loyal Wingman and swarms of drones which are also the fruits of AI.
Similarly, China is also investing a towering amount of money in AI and has indicated its desire to become the AI leader by 2030.The reason lies in the notion that AI can be instrumental to overcome the numerical superiority that the U.S. exercises at the moment, which can only be outdone by sophistication which AI steers along. Hence, AI has become a strategic priority for China. Consequently, the Chinese military is being modernized with this technology at a fast pace. China has made substantial progress in AI powered aerial vehicles and maritime drones. Similarly, the development of autonomous submarines and the incorporation of AI in cruise missiles is also being carried out swiftly.
Despite the fact that USA now has a leverage over every other state, China is catching up at an extremely fast pace. One of the reasons for such expedited progress is that the source of AI is the private sector. In China, the private sector has to abide by the orders of the government contrary to USA where the private companies are reluctant to weaponize their work and are not bound to fulfil the government’s demands. In 2018, The Google employees staged protests on the account of Google’s involvement in Project Maven, an initiative to use AI to bolster the targeting capabilities of drones. This opposition pressurized Google to dissociate itself with the respective project.
With the advent of Lethal Autonomous Weapons (LAWS), also known as Killer Robots; machines that have absolute autonomy in selecting and engaging their targets, there are many who have raised concerns regarding the potential of this emerging technology. Elon Musk and other technological experts sent a petition to the United Nations to impose ban on the development of LAWS as it will alter warfare to the extent that humans might be thrusted out of the loop. AI experts such as Elon Musk have repeatedly pressed upon the issue of going slow with AI as once it crosses a certain threshold humans would not be able to control it and has termed AI “potentially more dangerous than nukes.”
This new technology paves for erecting new challenges to international security by eliminating boundaries from the battlefield and staging an algorithmic warfare. The programmers can control and predict the nature of autonomous weapons until the stage where the weapon learns to program itself and that is where the dynamics of warfare can turn out to be lethal.
AI has been instrumental to curtail the looming threat of manipulating young minds towards terrorist activities, as the image-matching technology has been able to track down different terrorist content which reappeared from other accounts despite being removed. Similarly, Facebook has proposed that machine learning algorithms can be used to track the various patterns in propaganda in order to circumvent it from appearing on newsfeed of various accounts .Hence, if used in the right avenue, AI can be extremely beneficial. However, militarization of AI can lead us to a state where uncertainty can lead to unwanted escalation.
Artificial Intelligence will reshape the way wars are going to be fought in the upcoming times. The question that glares at us is whether keeping the human in the loop would be feasible in the long run or weather AI will decide the future of wars by itself.
Shaza Arif is a student of Defense and Diplomatic Studies, Fatimah Jinnah Women University, Rawalpindi.